POSITION OVERVIEW: With the release of Ed McDaniel, the Vikings have lost both of their longtime starting outside linebackers the last two years, as McDaniel followed Dwayne Rudd out of Winter Park to other ports of call.
While OLB is an obvious need for the Vikings, the draft may provide little in the way of top end help in that regard. Only one player, Northwestern's Napoleon Harris, is viewed as a first-round caliber pick and the possibility remains that as few as five OLBs will go off the board in the first day of the draft — not good news for teams like the Vikings looking to improve at the position.
THE TOP OF THE HEAP
Napoleon Harris, Northwestern, 6-3, 252 — Fifth-year senior who started the last three seasons...Played outside LB as a sophomore and junior and moved to pass-rushing DE as a senior...In three years he had 289 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and four interceptions...Played basketball for Northwestern early in his college career...Speed helps him in coverage and on blitzes...Has large hands to swat down or intercept passes...Better run defender than in pass coverage...Would excel in a 3-4 system that allows OLBs to use their speed more...Ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, did 27 reps with 225 pounds and had a 34-inch vertical jump at the Combine. PROJECTION: The only first-rounder among linebackers, he should be off the board around the 20th pick.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Saleem Rasheed, Alabama, 6-3, 230 — Third-year junior who played all three linebacker positions for the Crimson Tide...In three years, had 279 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, five sacks and no interceptions...Very smart and dedicated to improving his game...Chases plays down sideline to sideline...Excellent run stopper...Excellent upper body strength, he can bench press 500 pounds...Doesn't have great size...May have a problem playing full-time at any one position in the NFL because of size limitations...Did 26 reps at the Combine. PROJECTION: His ball-hawking ability has been noticed and his versatility will be a bonus, which should get him taken somewhere in the early stages of the second round, perhaps to the Vikings if other players they covet are off the board.
Raonall Smith, Washington State, 6-2, 243 — Fifth-year senior who graduated high school in 1996...Freshman season was cut short with shoulder surgery...Miss four games as a sophomore with knee and shoulder injuries...Full-time starter the last two years, but missed two starts last season after having his knee scoped...Last two years he had 139 tackles, 19 for a loss and one interception...Has the prototype build of a linebacker...Intensity and consistency are question marks...Works his way through a crowd well...Wowed scouts at the Combine by running a 4.55 40, doing 25 reps and having an impressive 42-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Looks like an NFL linebacker and has the workout numbers scouts like, but intensity is a problem. If coached in the right system, he could be a very good pro and will likely go by the end of the second round.
Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma, 6-3, 240 — High school Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in Oklahoma...Fourth-year senior who was a Freshman All-American, Three-time All-Big 12, two-time All-American, Nagurski and Bednarik Award finalist, a Butkus Award (given to the best linebacker in the country) as a junior and Butkus winner in 2001...In last three seasons, had 356 tackles, 46 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks...Is always chasing down plays...Some scouts see him as a potential middle linebacker, while others see him as an OLB...Hard worker who is very coachable and popular with teammates...Some wonder how much bigger he can get, since he came to college weighing 200 pounds and had added 40 pounds of bulk...Doesn't have great upper body strength, as shown at the Combine when he could do just 16 reps with 225 pounds. PROJECTION: A lunch pail type of a guy who was an excellent college player, but will have to step it up to make it as a pro. Likely will go late in the second or early in the third round.
David Thornton, North Carolina, 6-2, 236 — A walk-on who played three years with the Tar Heels...Only a one-year starter, but shined as a senior, recording 131 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and three sacks...Excellent special teams player...Determined and intense...Won team MVP, quite an achievement when you consider he was playing with Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims — both of whom may well go in the top 10 picks of the draft...Doesn't have ideal linebacker size...Added weight for the Combine and put up some impressive numbers, running a 4.62 40, doing 26 reps with 225 pounds and posting a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: His lack of experience will hurt his draft standing, so he probably won't go until the third round at the earliest.
Ben Leber, Kansas State, 6-4, 244 — Fifth-year senior and a three-year starter...Played MLB as a sophomore and move to strongside...Two-time All-Big 12...In three years as a starter, he had 186 tackles, 36 tackles for a loss and 11-1/2 sacks...Hard worker who is extremely coachable...Intelligent player who is a student of the game...Isn't a guy who plays with reckless abandon and is often tentative...At the Combine, he ran a 4.65 40, did 20 reps and had a 32-1/2 inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Has improved as a college player, but is seen primary as a backup type and special teams player who likely won't go until the second round.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Scott Fujita, California, 6-6, 248
James Allen, Oregon State, 6-3, 240
Will Witherspoon, Georgia, 6-2, 234
Kevin Bentley, Northwestern, 6-0, 243
Nick Rogers, Georgia Tech, 6-2, 250
Courtland Bullard, Ohio State, 6-4, 236
Algie Atkinson, Kansas, 6-4, 242
Rocky Boiman, Notre Dame, 6-4, 244
VU Draft Profiles: OLB
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